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Supreme Court of Pakistan. — File photo

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan was informed on Thursday that work had been completed to materialise the inclusion of overseas Pakistanis in the forthcoming general elections.

The apex court was further apprised that a recent meeting of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) and other functionaries of the government, discussed the issue of providing voting rights to overseas Pakistanis and concluded that their participation would be ensured.

This was told to a three-judge bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, when it resumed hearing of constitutional petitions by PTI chairman Imran Khan and others.

During the course of the proceeding, ECP Director General Sher Afgan informed the bench about the meetings held at the ECP between all the stakeholders on April 9th and 10th.

Giving the report, he stated that during the meetings it was decided that the inclusion of overseas Pakistanis in the coming election was possible, and said that it was decided initially Pakistanis residing in ten countries would be included in this exercise.

“About 4.5 million registered voters are residing in other countries, out of which 3.5 million are in the Middle East and 2.9 million out of this figure are currently living only in two countries of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates,” he informed the court.

Afgan further told the court that in Saudi Arabia about one million Pakistanis have manual passports, thus they would not be able to take part in the elections because the Machine Readable Passport (MRP) was the pre-requisite for them.

The DG ECP further stated that Nadra had made E-voting software for expatriates which would be utilised during the coming elections.

Justice Gulzar questioned that when an overseas would caste his vote in another country, his vote could also be used in his own constituency which would be tantamount to using one vote twice.

However, DG ECP brushed away this notion and stated that there would be very meager chances of mistakes in the current E-voting system.

Attorney General for Pakistan Irfan Qadir told the court that the first step towards materialising this exercise would be legislation in the law.

The AG stated that while including certain clauses in the legislation, the process of giving right to expatriates in the forthcoming elections would become easier.

DG ECP apprised the court that once the process of legislation is completed, they would need help from the overseas ministry and foreign office, as the process of deputing staff in the foreign mission would also take time.

He further stated that in countries where the population of registered voters would be over 100,000, two polling stations would be constituted, while a number less then that would have one polling station setup.

Sher Afgan stated the process of issuing visas to the staff appointed in foreign missions would take two-to-three weeks.

The chief justice appreciated work done by the ECP, Nadra and other govt functionaries for their hard work and devotion in making this task possible.

He remarked that the work which seemed impossible a month before, seems to be possible now and thus overseas Pakistanis, who are the backbone of our economy, would also participate in the election process.

Later, the bench adjourned further hearing for ten days, while directing the ECP to submit a report on the legislation and other matters.